Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Do you ever think about how they determine movie ratings? Neither do I. What if the movie ratings system were being used to skew our society in a certain way? The movies are a large part of the national conversation in the U.S. and the content of the movies in some way influences the course the country takes. What if the movie ratings were awarded by a secretive board of people, with almost no right of appeal, where the head of the organization was a high ranking former Washington insider (an assistant to a U.S. President), and determined directly how widely a movie will be distributed (or not)?

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a deep look at the MPAA, the motion picture ratings system, and the effect it has had on certain movies.

Primarily however the movies being affected were highly sexual. But a question asked several times was, why are the movies with sex in them given tough ratings when the movies with extreme violence do not? Why is it bad to show sex scenes to children, and not bad to show violence to them?

The U.S. already has an extreme culture of violence. Maybe the movies reflect that culture of violence, as does the ratings system, or maybe the movies and the rating system is skewing the country into more violence?

In one scene of the movie they show a clip of the Columbine killers roaming their high school, and then discuss the connection between movie violence and real life violence. While the exact mechanism isn't 100% clear they asserted that it's widely recognized by experts that the repeated viewing of graphic violence affects behavior.

Many of the film makers interviewed had made movies with intense sexual content, in some cases earning NC-17 ratings for very beautiful movies which happened to show women having extreme pleasurable orgasms. It seemed to them that the ratings board's problem was with the extreme pleasure. Again, this is backwardsly weird unless the point of the board was to encourage violence and downplay other memes and images.

One track of the movie is interviews with several film-makers about their experience with the rating of their movies as well as the appeals process. For example the maker of one movie described how her movie earned an NC-17 because it showed pubic hair, and puzzingly asked how in Basic Instinct they got an R rating while showing Sharon Stone's vagina full on. Over and over the film ratings board was described as fickle, and arbitrary.

They also explained how while the rating board is kept secret from the public supposedly to prevent undue influence, the rating board members do have direct contact with film makers.

In the other track in the movie, a pair of private detectives were hired to conduct an in-depth investigation. They parked outside the MPAA building, took license plates numbers, placed phone calls, went to lunch at places raters were having lunch, raided the trash cans of raters, and so on. Over time they were able to learn the identities of many raters, get background information, show pictures, and so on.

Supposedly the raters are "parents" of children, but in practice many of the raters either don't have children or their children are grown. Supposedly because raters are parents, that their ratings will act to protect children. But it's clear this is bogus.

A string of facts are strung throughout the movie about Jack Valenti, the chairman of the organization. He had been a high level Presidential staffer and was suddenly sent by Washington to work in Hollywood and to set up this ratings board. The implication is that Valenti was sent by Washington to establish political control over the movies Hollywood produces.

In short the movie presents a censorship board that does their best to present an image of helping movie makers understand how the content of their movies affect the audience the movies will find. That strikes me as I write it as a very curious phrasing, but hearing it in the movie sounded more natural. The affect of a rating (NC-17 for instance) is to limit when/where the movie can be shown. An NC-17 and it simply won't be showable in most theaters and be limited only in places that specialize in THOSE movies. While it's movies about sex which usually earn these ratings, and our society has strange issues around sexuality, it's a really important question to ponder... why doesn't violent imagery receive the same treatment?

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Buy: This Film Is Not Yet Rated